NBCSports.com, MN
Dec 31 2006


What if Ara Parseghian had kept coaching?

By John Walters
NBCSports.com
The only thing gaudy about Penn State is its head coach's victory
total.

Joe Paterno, now in his 41st season as the head coach in Happy
Valley, has a career record of 355-117-3. Paterno's 355 victories
rank second in Division I history to Bobby Bowden of Florida State,
who has 359 (Paterno, by the way, is 7-1 versus the Dean of
Dadgummit, including last January's triple-overtime win in the Orange
Bowl).

Paterno celebrated his 80th birthday on the final day of autumn
(December 21). And suddenly, for the first time since Amos Alonzo
Stagg roamed the sidelines at the College of the Pacific during World
War II, the term "octogenarian football coach" will be in vogue.


Malcolm Emmons/US PRESSWIRE
Ara Parseghian coached the Fighting Irish to two national
championships in just 11 seasons.Paterno's legendary longevity got us
to wondering. There's a legendary football coach living in South
Bend. Like JoePa, this coach is enshrined in the College Football
Hall of Fame. Like JoePa, this coach still has a full head of hair,
and he began coaching at the college level in 1950. And, like the
Nittany Lions' full-maned master, he is an octogenarian.

So we asked Ara Parseghian, "How many victories might you have if
you'd never retired?"

"Well, first that's a purely hypothetical question," replied
Parseghian, who is 83 and has lost nothing off his fastball. "And
second, I did not retire.

"I resigned the responsibility of coaching football at Notre Dame.
But, to answer your question, I don't think I could have survived (he
means that in the literal sense) as long as Joe did. I would have
been gone a long time ago."

Parseghian resigned the responsibility, as he puts it, a long, long
time ago. He was just 52 years old when he left Notre Dame after the
1974 season.

He had spent 11 years in South Bend and guided the Fighting Irish to
a pair of national championships. However, he had been a head coach
nearly half his life by that point. In 24 seasons as a head coach,
first at Miami of Ohio, then at Northwestern and finally at Notre
Dame, Parseghian had compiled a record of 170-58-4.

At the same point in his life, Joe Paterno had been a head coach at
Penn State for 14 seasons. His record then, following the 1979
season, was 131-29-1. That mark was undeniably impressive -- already
Paterno had put together three undefeated seasons as well as a trio
of 11-1 campaigns (like the one he had last year).

No doubt Joe Paterno is one of the greatest coaches who ever lived --
and outlived most all of his peers. But what if that one peer who is
still among us, Parseghian, had remained in coaching? After all, at
the same age (52) AraPa was already up on JoePa by 39 wins -- at
least a four-season advantage.

I did the math so you don't have to. Assume that Parseghian, whose
career winning percentage at Notre Dame was .836, had won only 75
percent of his games afterward.

Assume that Parseghian had remained at Notre Dame as the head coach
for the next 367 games, up to and including last Saturday's win at
Georgia Tech.

Assuming all that, Parseghian would have 445 victories. His win total
would dwarf those of Paterno (355) and Bowden (366).

(Of course, there are other assumptions we could make had Parseghian
never left: Rudy would have gotten into a game a lot sooner; so would
have Joe Montana; the term "Oust Faust" would never have come into
vogue; the average sports fan would know a helluva lot more about
Armenia. But I digress.)

"I never thought about 400 wins," says Parseghian, who really only
spent one season as an assistant coach at Miami, and then succeeded
Woody Hayes when he departed to take the Ohio State job. "You sort of
move in the time frame that you're in. You're not thinking of the
future, not thinking about statistics. All you're thinking about is
winning the next game."

The pressure-cooker that is Notre Dame was also an undeniable factor
in Parseghian's decision to get out of football when he did. "You
look at some of the more successful Notre Dame coaches besides
Rockne," says Parseghian.

"Frank Leahy, Lou Holtz and myself. All of them left after 11
seasons.

You think there might be something to that?"

Parseghian, who ran every day at lunchtime during his coaching days,
was always vigorous. He'd been at Notre Dame about five seasons when
Francis Powers, an Irish alumnus who was a writer for Collier's,
approached him at a golf outing. "So," asked Powers, "has it gotten
to you yet?"

"At the time," says Parseghian, "I didn't know what he was talking
about. I was fine. But after five more years, I knew. This job ages
you."

Sometimes it ages you all in one afternoon. Parseghian recalls his
final regular-season game as the Irish head coach, at the Los Angeles
Coliseum against Southern Cal. Notre Dame had erupted for a 24-0 lead
late in the first half when it came time to punt the ball. "I
instructed my kicker to kick away from their returner, Anthony
Davis," Parseghian says. "If he was on the right side of the field,
kick it left. If he was on the left, kick it right. He kicked it
right to him."

Davis returned that punt for a touchdown and, as you probably know,
the Trojans scored the next 55 points.

"There are so many facets to the game you cannot control," says
Parseghian.

"You can't control the officials. You can't control the weather, nor
the turnovers, nor ..."

Anthony Davis?

"We led in that damn game 24-0, for goodness sake," Parseghian barks.
"Yes, it's frustrating."

Listening to him, you ascertain how coaching can age you. Then again,
Parseghian sounds as if he's ready to coach 'em up this Saturday.

All of which, by the way, makes Paterno's (and Bowden's) perseverance
so incredible. Parseghian, in fact, has written him letters
congratulating Paterno on his longevity. "It's one thing to say you
could have coached such and such years and won so many games," says
Parseghian. "But Joe's done it.

That's what matters."
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